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What Is Faith?

14 Jan


Atheists misdefine the Christian concept of faith. The chief offender is Peter BoghossianWhen Peter and the disciples (get it?) define faith as “pretending to know things you don’t know”, we need to ask: “What is their authority, their source for this definition? Have they done any basic exegetical work in the text? What is their justification for their interpretation? Where do they pull their definition from?”

No wise student of world religions and other belief systems should act as if all frameworks have an identical definition of this word/concept. A person may not agree with the way Christian theology defines faith – fine. But shouldn’t they at least understand how Christians have historically utilized the word and concept? If they are not attempting to do this – which appears to be the case—then what are they accomplishing?

Atheists, please understand: any evangelical worth their salt is not interested in some vague philosophy of religion definition of faith but rather the biblical – and especially the New Testament – use of the word and concept.

Will Peter B. be interested? Not likely. But then he will merely be defining something in a way that is designed to be favorable to his ultimate end. That’s not a linguistic consideration; that’s a cheap tactic. Read Peter Boghossian, Atheist Tactitian for more on this.

That is fine for him, but it’s not scholarship. Peter’s definition doesn’t reflect the way the biblical authors used the word. It doesn’t look at the way systematizers use concepts and it won’t reflect most streams of Christianity (sans fideists). Peter and the crew will talk right past all of us without blinking.

Recently, I looked over the Biblical definition of faith. I took some notes. As a Protestant Christian, I go to Scripture (as in ‘sola Scriptura’). I look to the actual Greek word pisteuō (verb form) and then go from there. I included some basic mini-word studies with a few examples of usage. I look to Scripture, its context (in the Greek) and the lexicons. Then I seek to collate and synthesize the data – this is what systematic theology *is*.

With these notes, I have no mere polemic in mind. I offer an understanding of what the Greek word translated as faith means in the New Testament. 

-Gk. noun pistis and verb pisteuō both occur more than 240 times (verb form used 98 times in Gospel of John), adjective pistos 67 times

-Verb pisteuō often followed by Greek word for ‘that’ (eg, “believe that…”); indicates New Testament faith is concerned with content. NOTE: it is still more than that, though, e.g., Calvin’s Commentary on Romans 3:14-15.

-“Pisteuō may be followed by the simple dative, when the meaning is that of giving credence to, of accepting as true, what someone says.” … it is “faith in the sense of trust.” (New Bible Dictionary, 3rd edition, 1996, from the entry for “faith” by Leon Morris).

-Common construction for saving faith in NT: verb pisteuō followed by preposition eis.
Literally means believe ‘into’ (as in, “believe/trust into Christ”).

-New Testament faith is not merely accepting certain things as true, but emphasizes trusting a person – Christ. 

Calvin comments: “To separate faith from trust (Latin, fiducia) would be equal to an attempt to separate heat and light from the sun” (Commentary on Ephesians 3:12). The emphasis is the object of faith: the person of Christ. The idea is that God is reliable, dependable, and truthful – therefore trustworthy.

– Sometimes pisteuō is followed by epi, ‘upon’ (e.g., Acts 9:42).

– Also characteristic of the New Testament is the absolute use of the verb pisteuō (e.g., John 4:41).

-Faith is used in New Testament often as the antithesis of WORKS – not of rationality or thought.

-For example, Paul writes that ‘A man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ’ … ‘even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law’ … ‘because by works of the law shall no one be justified’ (Galatians 2:16).

-Here faith denotes relying on God’s grace as opposed to one’s own merit or work. This is what the Protestant Reformers meant by the Latin motto, “sola fide” (by “faith alone”).

-The author of Hebrews sees faith as a historic trait for the people of God (in chapter 11 he gives numerous examples)

John Frame comments: “…although faith is not blind, it is different from sight. The heroes of Hebrews 11 endured terrible sufferings, not seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises, the heavenly city. They walked by faith. They had God’s word, and that word was reliable. But it did not answer all their questions or tell each one why his or her suffering was necessary. Yet their prevailed. The very nature of faith is to persevere despite unanswered questions. Thus does God’s word encourage sufferers to hold on tightly to God’s promises and not to be overcome with doubt.” (Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction, John Frame, 1994), p 179.

-The author of Hebrews does contrast faith (Gr. pistis) with things seen (Gr. blepomenon) in Hebrews 11:1.

In general, faith in the New Testament is seen as synonymous with trust. It is usually contrasted with “works” – NOT REASON! The exception (to a certain extent) is the Book of Hebrews. The author uses the concept in a somewhat different way. Still, if a person reads the whole book – or at least all of chapter 11 – they should be able to see how the author seeks to tie faith to the concept of hope. The author doesn’t seek to divorce it from reason (the idea of true faith vs. true reason is not even in the Bible). With that being said, the author of Hebrews does show there is a “not-yet” aspect; there is something still in the future still, which we have not yet seen or experienced but trust God that it will happen.

-Often uses faith to denote intellectual assent, as in demons who believe God exists in James 2:19.

IF Christ has not been raised

THEN Paul’s preaching is vain (Greek kene: empty, without content, purposeless, untrue)

IF Christ has not been raised
THEN the Corinthians faith is also vain (Greek kene: empty, without content, purposeless, untrue)

IF Christ has not been raised
THEN the apostles are misrepresenting God

IF Christ has not been raised
THEN your faith is futile (Greek mataia: worthless, powerless, without effect, useless)

IF Christ has not been raised
THEN Christians are of all people most to be pitied


As a Calvinist, I ask what others in the Reformed tradition have said: a theologian (Frame), a philosopher (Van Til) and an exegete (Calvin), all who represent the Reformed Christian tradition. Then we may ask, “How have others understood the concept of faith historically?”

“Christianity is not irrational” … “it must not be taken on blind faith”
(Common Grace and The Gospel, 1972), p 184.

“…the Christian faith is not a blind faith but is faith based on evidence…”
(A Christian Theory of Knowledge, 1969), p 250.


“Our faith cannot rest on anything other than his eternal truth” (aeterna eius veritate) – Commentary on Genesis 17:4

“Faith is a knowledge of the divine will toward us received from his word” (Institutes, 3.2.6).

“We make the foundation of faith the gratuitous promise, because in it faith properly consists” (3.2.29).

*All of Chapter 2 of Book 3 of Calvin’s Institutes is on faith; he defines it and explains its properties. 


On a slightly different trek, one may ask what is the source or cause for said faith. Well, that gets us into what is called the ‘ordo salutis’ (Latin,” order of salvation”).

The source of this trust (why does any one person begin trusting/have faith in the first place?) is understood to be an effect resulting from the supernatural work of the person of the Holy Spirit upon the mind of an individual. Sometimes this is talked about under the rubric of something called “effectual calling”.

Reformed types believe regeneration is a gift and must precede genuine faith – or trust. Arminian or Wesleyan types think that people believe (have faith/trust) on via their own means and then as a result are born again (regenerated) after. People often go to the Greek of Ephesians 2:8-10 to discuss this question.

RESOURCES: Peter debated Tim McGrew on this topic on Unbelievable Radio here. It was good overall (not to say I agree with Tim 100%, I don’t). Also, see the RTB podcast “Is Christian “Faith” Blind?” (Apr 10, 2013).


Atheist David Fitzgerald Wrong About John the Baptist

12 Nov

Do you meet all of the following conditions?
-under 35 years old
-an atheist
-debate Christians on the Internet
-have attended a talk put on by the Secular Student Alliance

If you answered yes to all four, chances are, you know David Fitzgerald. You might also know Dave if you are a Christian apologist who is involved with campus ministry. Apparently, William Lane Craig knows. David is the author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All? and promotes the Christ-Myth Theory, which claims Jesus Christ never lived.

I debated (informally) David on three different occasions in 2013. In our second conversation, he made a claim that John the Baptist was a failed Messiah. This claim came in the flow of an argument he was making about  Jesus (supposedly) not having the same amount of historical corroboration as so-called “loser Messiahs”. I asked Dave for evidence or a source for his take on J to tha B. He mentioned the Clementine Recognitions, saying it backs him up. Watch the debate here and note our dialogue between 12 and 13 minutes.

-pause the video
-read sections 155 and 160 of Book I of the Clementine Recognitions
(it’s pasted in below and I’ve underlined the most relevant lines but you can read more here)


1.54 — Jewish Sects.
“For when the rising of Christ was at hand for the abolition of sacrifices, and for the bestowal of the grace of baptism, the enemy, understanding from the predictions that the time was at hand, wrought various schisms among the people, that, if haply it might be possible to abolish the former sin, the latter fault might be incorrigible.
“The first schism, therefore, was that of those who were called Sadducees, which took their rise almost in the time of John. These, as more righteous than others, began to separate themselves from the assembly of the people, and to deny the resurrection of the dead, and to assert that by an argument of infidelity, saying that it was unworthy that God should be worshipped, as it were, under the promise of a reward. The first author of this opinion was Dositheus; the second was Simon.
“Another schism is that of the Samaritans; for they deny the resurrection of the dead, and assert that God is not to be worshipped in Jerusalem, but on Mount Gerizim. They indeed rightly, from the predictions of Moses, expect the one true Prophet; but by the wickedness of Dositheus they were hindered from believing that Jesus is He whom they were expecting.
“The scribes also, and Pharisees, are led away into another schism; but these, being baptized by John, and holding the word of truth received from the tradition of Moses as the key of the kingdom of heaven, have hid it from the hearing of the people.
“Yea, some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves from the people, and proclaimed their own master as the Christ. But all these schisms have been prepared, that by means of them the faith of Christ and baptism might be hindered.”
1.60 — Disciples of John Refuted.
“And, behold, one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ, and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all men and all prophets.’If, then, ‘said he, ‘he be greater than all, he must be held to be greater than Moses, and than Jesus himself. But if he be the greatest of all, then must he be the Christ.’ 
“To this Simon the Canaanite, answering, asserted that John was indeed greater than all the prophets, and all who are born of women, yet that he is not greater than the Son of man. Accordingly Jesus is also the Christ, whereas John is only a prophet: and there is as much difference between him and Jesus, as between the forerunner and Him whose forerunner he is; or as between Him who gives the law, and him who keeps the law. Having made these and similar statements, the Canaanite also was silent.
“After him Barnabas, who also is called Matthias, who was substituted as an apostle in the place of Judas, began to exhort the people that they should not regard Jesus with hatred, nor speak evil of Him. For it were far more proper, even for one who might be in ignorance or in doubt concerning Jesus, to love than to hate Him. For God has affixed a reward to love, a penalty to hatred. ‘For the very fact,’ said he, ‘that He assumed a Jewish body, and was born among the Jews, how has not this incited us all to love Him?’ When he had spoken this, and more to the same effect, he stopped.”

Re-listen to David’s claims about John as a failed Messiah – does the source (which is a late work falsely ascribed to Clement of Rome) match his claims?


Vocab Malone is an urban apologist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot.  Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone




29 Oct


The pop culture consensus is generally unaware of the history of modern science and its Christian origins. To make matters worse, many internet atheists engage in historical revisionism when engaging this issue. For example, see the hard secular polemics of Richard Carrier, who is following in the footsteps of his outdated, outmoded and outlandish forebears, John William Draper and Andrew Dickson.

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati (Creation Ministries International) was on Backpack Radio (link) to discuss the Christian roots related to the rise of modern science. I was on an episode of Apologia Radio to discuss the same thing and respond to some criticism of the claim. Apologia’s website says the show, “will hopefully cause praise to flow from your lips to God Who is the very foundation of any pursuit of scientific discovery.” My sentiments exactly. On this post, I share some thoughts on the history and development of modern science.

Many pioneers of modern science were Christians. In fact, many were specifically informed by their Christian worldview as they pursued science. This is important. Why? When someone observing history notes that modern science arose from a decidedly Christian view of God, creation and humanity, a doubter arises and claims the observer is committing the fallacy of correlation (eg, History of Modern Science and Two Fallacies).

This is a common mistake people make once they learn the concept of logical fallacies: they falsely call non-fallacies, fallacies. It’s not a display of critical thinking, it’s a rhetorical shortcut disguised as a counter-argument. When someone says something is wrong – when it is not – it is falsely calling a fallacy. In this case, the fallacy of correlation.

There are a ways we can show there is a causal relationship between the Christian world of ideas and the rise of science.

-One way to determine causality is by investigating intention, purpose and motivation. If an acting agent expressly declares why they are doing what they are doing, we have a statement of intention. In the case of many of the pioneers of modern science, we have this – read their writings! It’s easy, they tell us. Listen to them:

Johannes ‪‎Kepler‬ (1571–1630): “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational‬ order and harmony which has been imposed on it by ‪‎God‬ and which He revealed to us in the language of ‪‎mathematics‬.” [1]

Kepler also wrote that “God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend those norms.”

Nicholas Copernicus: “The universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.”

French philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) spoke of “certain laws which God has so established in nature and of certain notions which He has impressed in our souls.”

On a slightly different note, but still too fun to leave out, the preface of Isaac ’s Principia states this “will be the safest protection against the attacks of , and nowhere more surely than from this quiver can one draw forth missiles against the band of godless men.” [2]

The list goes on. It is long, not short. These kind of comments in trail blazing scientific writings are purposeful, frequent and in-depth, not accidental, occasional and off-hand.

-Another way to determine causality is via deductive reasoning; we can link certain premises of scientific pioneers with certain conclusions. This means we can see where their line of reasoning will lead – or not. We can trace out where Christian monotheism vs. animism or pantheism leads; we can walk out a biblical doctrine of creation vs. an ancient pagan one. Try it. Here is an example relating God’s sovereignty over sinners and his sovereignty over matter:

“The view of sinners as passive inspired a parallel view of matter as passive. Matter was driven not by internal rational Forms but by the sovereign commands of God. The freedom of God in bestowing salvation inspired a parallel view of His freedom in creation and providence. God was not restricted by any inherent necessity; He freely bestowed order according to His own will and design.” [3]

-Another way to determine causality is historical investigation. Especially one in which we take ideas, events and even people as data and then compare and contrast them. For example, comparing one civilization with another and asking: what are the similarities and differences? Then we can further investigate and ask: what factors did the differences play in the different outcomes? Historians of science do this all the time and most non-positivist historians come to relatively similar conclusions: Christian thought was instrumental in the invention of science as an institution.

Other doubters will charge that the Christian conflates necessary and sufficient conditions. Here is the question: what do people need to believe about the world first in order for science to get off the ground? Unless the revisionist can sketch a bullet list of the necessary conditions for people to believe in and then engage in scientific discovery, then it seems the charge is not an argument at all … but more of a baseless accusation. Christianity does supply both the necessary and sufficient conditions needed to under gird the scientific enterprise.

9 Ideas The Christian Worldview Provides for Science:[4]

1. Creation is Real:
Finite objects are not mere appearances of the Infinite or any other similar concept; they are not illusory but real.

2. Creation is Good:
Genesis, Psalms, etc. portray a high view of creation. God made the material world good. Therefore, work is valuable, a way to serve God.
3. Creation is Not God:
Creation is not to be an object of worship but rather an object of study. It is valuable but not divine or ultimate.
4. Creation is Orderly:
Events occur in reliable, predictable fashion. NOTE: this presupposition rests not merely on the existence of a god but specifically on the trustworthy and dependable character of this God.
5. Humans Can Discover The Order:
God created humans with the powers of observation and reasoning necessary to gain reliable knowledge of natural world. Knowledge is possible because of a corresponding capacity created in us by God (cf, Herman Dooyeweerd)
6. Creation Obeys Laws:
All natural occurrences are lawful, intelligible. A rational God means the world must be lawfully ordered; the world reflects God’s rationality.
7. Creation’s Laws Can Be Stated:
This can be done using precise mathematical formulas. Belief in God is a guarantee of consistency; it guarantees the logical validity of mathematical concepts. Mathematics are a God-given means for perceiving reality; analogous to sight, sense, touch, hearing and smell. No one “invents” geometry; and that’s part of the point. This idea ties mathematics to real world.
8. Creation is Intelligible:
Creatio ex nihilo means there is no pre-existing substance with its own independent properties to limit what God can do. God created the world exactly as He willed. (cf, R. G. Collingwood). Structure, existence of universe contingent upon free, transcendent will of God. So, we must experiment and observe to discover what’s there.
9. Goal of science:
Glory of God and benefit of mankind. Humans are free to manipulate creation, theoretically in mathematical formulas, practically by experiment. Christianity provided the intellectual framework and motive for technology (Gen. 1-2).

*Note this list is not identical to the Aristotelian worldview.

Any list an atheist gives of the basic philosophical assumptions needed for science will mismatch with their worldview. That is to say, it will not match up with their actual axioms somewhere. It may sound like common sense because in the West, we generally take our starting place for granted. But look deeper and you will discern it is ad hoc at key junctions because the evidence from metaphysics is against their metaphysics. 

For example, they want order in their worldview but all they have is chaos, randomness and chance. But wait – the actual universe displays order! Of course the atheist realizes this and understand how important order is for science (for example, in repeating experiments, making predictions). What do they do? They acknowledge this reality and try to artificially attach order to their worldview somewhere (“order is merely a construct of the human mind”, etc.) or just shrug their philosophical shoulders and say, “I don’t know, but it works … besides, your answer is no better!” There is a disconnect between what they have – and what they need.

No atheistic worldview can supply the atheist with the preconditions needed for science. This news ain’t new – except to the 21st century atheist. David Hume will tell you this. Hume held that any case of A causing B is a mere verbal convention borne from mental habit. Most scientists can’t tell you this; as a general rule, they haven’t give it a second thought.

Does anyone truly think that any ol’ worldview contains the needed axioms for scientific thought? I have actually heard from a number of atheists there is nothing unique about one worldview over another; specifically, that there is nothing distinct about Christianity that led to scientific exploration. Really? Please don’t be needlessly stubborn and act as if you could get identical axiomatic principles out of Hinduism, Buddhism, animism or polytheism.

Who can say with a straight face that Christianity just “happened” to be the dominate religion when science took off?  It’s unfathomable how folks can glibly make such statements – but they do. The evidence of history (and yes, metaphysics) is against these naive revisionist claims.

This particular disagreement often looks like mere head-shaking on the part of many atheists; it appears they simply say ‘no’ over and over again for the sake of obstinacy (either that or repeating, “luuucky”). A great example is Richard Carrier’s appearance on Unbelievers Radio – it amounted to haughty (but unfounded) scoffing and naked contrarianism – and a rather shallow contrarianism at that.

Philosophy of science is a legitimate second-order academic discipline.* Pay attention to it. The history of science is ever before us. The keen observer takes note that the history of science is not merely a happenstance invention here and a fortunate discovery there; no, the history of science is the history of ideas – how they are played out in real time.

[1] Cited in Kline, Mathematics in Western Culture, Oxford, 1953, p 96
[2] Written by Roger Cotes, in the Preface to 2nd edition
[3] from The Soul of Science, referencing/describing Gary Deason’s chapter “Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature”, in God and Nature, ed. David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers (Univ. of Calif. Press, 1986), pp. 167- 191).
[4] Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton pointed out ideas which are needed for people to believe in science; some of these points are a reader’s digest/summarized version of some of their points in The Soul of Science.
* For a great intro to this, Science & Grace is an underrated, controversial and paradigm-shaking book towards a philosophy/theology of science.


Vocab Malone is an urban apologist and hip hop artist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone

Atheism, Evolution and Worldview Consistency

12 Nov

by Vocab

Many of the New Atheists tell us science can explain everything – except when it can’t. They rely on empiricism – except when they can’t. Both happen more often than you might think. For example: on evolution, what’s the proof that there are other values besides survival for the surviving evolved? We don’t need more descriptions of human behavior from atheists, we need paradigm consistent answers.

Press the atheist on this and you will quickly receive what amounts to a quasi-admission that evolution has no explanatory power for the way real people actually live. Sam Harris often refers to ‘moral emotions’. What are ‘moral emotions’ – from a biological standpoint? Can you measure them and tell us their place among the laws of physics?

Likewise, I always shake my head when I see that Dawkins quote about rebelling against the tyranny of our genes – right after he talks about how we’re programmed by our DNA. It almost sounds like Romanticism or Existentialism; I don’t know what to call this brand of whimsy. But what is Dawkin’s evolutionary reason for stating we can conquer our evolutionary reasons?

Either way, I’m not sure if Daniel Dennett (see his ‘evolution as acid’ motif) or Stephen Hawking (Mr. ‘Philosophy-is-Dead’-so-now-I-can-do-bad-philosophy) got the memo about the limits of science – or most atheists when they are debating Christians. What’s the point of Sam Harris’ book on morals, anyway? Science can answer moral questions. 

If an atheist tells me science is not the only way to know things, then I ask: can you give a list of your other authoritative inputs, then? Do you have a bullet-point hierarchy, perhaps? Just boil it down; maybe one or two words for each authoritative category. I want to know: what are your other, non-scientific epistemological venues and your other, non-empirical knowledge tools. Why? To better understand what you claim. And it just may help you work out some very knotty knots in your non-systematized ‘system’.

As I discuss this with folks, I keep running into atheists who resist the idea of worldview. Why? It seems their reason is they don’t want to be pegged down. Why? I guess so they can remain inconsistent in applying their axioms. But don’t atheists need to apply what they believe in a rigorous manner? I ask you: if you think evolution is irrelevant for your moral decisions, than what role does it play in how you, as a product and believer in it, live? If it does not factor in, then it has no real application to human behavior and is powerless. 

Worldview is your philosophical construct. For the Christian, the concept may be a rough corollary to the Biblical concept of “heart” (Hebrew ‘leb‘ or ‘lebab‘, which occurs 855 times in the OT). Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) first used ‘worldview’ (Weltanschauung) in Critique of Judgment (1790). Others explored it: Wilhelm Dilthey, G.F.W. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, James Olthuis, Albert M. Wolters, and John H. Kok. Kiekegaard says a ‘life-view’ (his word instead of worldview) results in one understanding one’s life backwards through the idea retrospectively. It makes no sense to say people don’t have ways in which they view the world. 

I have yet to meet the consistent atheist. Or consistent evolutionist. Or consistent empiricist. Or consistent rationalist. Or consistent secular humanist. Most modern atheists seem blissfully unaware of the trail blazed through modernity to land them in the cultural and epistemological milieu they sit in so comfortably. It seems too facile, this atheism. Too non-reflective. Too easy.

I just want more. An axiomatic-aware atheism. A robust rationalism. A self-conscious secularism.

Where is it?

‘It is the transfer of broken elements of the imago-content into secular ethics which actually leads to the major inconsistencies in those systems. Not even the ethics of self-conscious revolt against God and objective morality can fashion its system of morals without borrowing something, even if inadvertently, from the ethics of creation. And the spokesman for anti-God and anti-morality lives closer to the imago than does his system of ethics. For the imago is a subjective phenomenon of human life and can nowhere be totally pulled out by the roots.’

-Carl F. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics (p 159).


Vocab Malone is 
an urban apologist and slam poet. Vocab holds a Master’s Degree from Phoenix Seminary and is  pursuing a D. Min at Talbot. Follow him on Twitter @VocabMalone
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